Λόγοι, Πρόσωπα, Αξίες: Κατευόδιο στον Ντέρεκ Πάρφιτ

The Books’ Journal, 1/2/2017

Ας υποθέσουμε ότι ένας Έλληνας νευροεπιστήμονας έχει φτιάξει μια μηχανή που αντιγράφει το περιεχόμενο του μυαλού σου, συμπεριλαμβανομένων των αναμνήσεών σου, σε ένα σκληρό δίσκο. Σε συνεργασία με έναν Άγγλο συνάδελφό του, ο Έλληνας νευροεπιστήμονας ανεβάζει αυτό το περιεχόμενο στον εγκέφαλο ενός ασθενή στην Αγγλία, αντικαθιστώντας εντελώς το νοητικό του περιεχόμενο με το δικό σου. Δυστυχώς, η μηχανή έχει βλάβη, και ο εγκέφαλός σου καταστρέφεται. Τι σου έχει συμβεί; Έχεις πεθάνει; Ή μήπως έχεις πάει ταξίδι στην Αγγλία; Σύμφωνα με τον Ντέρεκ Πάρφιτ, τον σημαντικότερο ηθικό φιλόσοφο της τελευταίας τριακονταετίας, έχεις πεθάνει. Γιατί; Ας υποθέσουμε ότι το upload είναι επιτυχές και φεύγεις από το χειρουργείο του Έλληνα νευροεπιστήμονα χωρίς εγκεφαλική ζημιά. Ο Άγγλος doppelganger σου ήδη σε κουβαλάει μέσα στο κεφάλι του. Λίγες ώρες αργότερα, ο νευροεπιστήμονας σου λέει ότι μια βλάβη στη διαδικασία του upload θα προκαλέσει τον θάνατό σου σε δυο μέρες. Ποιος θα πεθάνει σε δυο μέρες; Εσύ. Αλλά αν είσαι εσύ που θα πεθάνεις σε δυο μέρες, τότε είσαι πάλι εσύ που πέθανες όταν καταστράφηκε ο εγκέφαλός σου στο αρχικό παράδειγμα. Άρα η μηχανή δεν είναι καινούριο είδος ταξιδιωτικού πράκτορα: δεν σε πάει στην Αγγλία. Σε σκοτώνει.

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Economic Democracy Workshop

Call for abstracts — Deadline March 10, 2017

Rethinking Economic Democracy

Workshop at Leiden University, part of the Dutch Political Association Meeting, June 1-2, 2017

Conveners: Nicholas Vrousalis (Leiden) and Gabriel Wollner (Humboldt)

Description: One remedy against mounting economic inequality consists in democratizing economic institutions. Such democratization may range from giving workers control rights over their places of work, to control rights over firm-specific means of production, to ownership rights over the means of production as a whole.

This workshop will bring together philosophers, economists, and political theorists, with the aim of rejuvenating the debate on economic democracy. We welcome abstracts on topics falling under this theme, broadly construed. Here is an indicative, non-exhaustive list of possible topics:

§ Workplace democracy
§ Workplace republicanism and constitutionalism
§ Representation and the workplace
§ Workers’ councils
§ Council communism
§ Market socialism
§ Public ownership
§ Work and the welfare state
§ Property-owning democracy
§ Trade unions

Abstract submission: Please submit an abstract (max. 500 words) to: economicdemocracyleiden[at]gmail.com by March 10, 2017.

Submission: March 10, 2017
Notification: March 31, 2017
Workshop: June 1-2, 2017

Information about conference fees and accommodation will be posted here.

Podcast on Cohen book

The New Books Network now has an podcast discussing my book, here.

Syriza crash lands against the euro

Open Democracy, 4/7/15

A man goes to the tailor to pick up a custom-made suit. He puts it on, and notices that the sleeves are too long. When he complains, the tailor says: ‘just bend your arms a little’. ‘But the collar is too low!’ ‘Just raise your back a little’ says the tailor. ‘But the trousers are too long!’ ‘Just stand on your toes’ says the tailor. The man goes out into the street and can barely walk in his new suit. Everyone says: ‘poor guy’. ‘Yes, but great suit!’.

This joke represents the structure of entanglement of working class Greeks with the euro over the past five years. Unemployment presently stands at 27 percent. Millions have been plunged into poverty and homelessness. The country has seen the biggest increase in inequality and xenophobia in Europe since the 1930s. But hey, at least we’ve got the euro!

The referendum announced by the Greek government on Sunday is its last-ditch attempt to get some leverage against the latest round of blackmail by the troika of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, however, the chances that SYRIZA will be able to orchestrate an economic recovery with Greece in the Eurozone are still virtually nought. Let me explain.

During last week’s negotiations, the Greek government and its creditors failed to reach agreement on a new bail-out. Part of the reason was IMF’s insistence that the revenue-raising measures proposed by the government, amounting to some €8bn, involved too many taxes on the rich. They were therefore likely to choke off the chances of economic recovery. The IMF effectively said: if you don’t cut taxes on the rich—while cutting back on everything else—there isn’t going to be more private investment. For greater investment requires greater net profit, and greater net profit only accrues when taxes on the rich are low. Such is the inexorable logic of capital accumulation in the neoliberal era.

The irony of all this is that, even if SYRIZA reaches an agreement to cut a ‘mere’ 8bn from an already depressed economy, it will, eventually, have to follow IMF advice. For how else will it get the Greek economy out of the depression while committed to the euro? How, in other words, is Greece to reduce its massive reserve army of the unemployed without cutting taxes for the rich, thus raising profits and eventually investment in the private sector?

The standard Keynesian response to this question is: by raising public spending and employment. But this avenue is not open to straitjacketed Greece. If the country had its own currency, then it could print its way out of the recession. But this cannot be done while it is dependent on the ECB for liquidity and interest rate policy. On the one hand, the ECB’s liquidity programmes, disseminated as they are through the national central banks—and ruled by a colonial ideology worthy of Montague Norman—offer a pittance compared to the country’s spending needs. On the other hand, Greece cannot engage in deficit spending due to prior Eurozone commitments, including the Growth and Stability Pact. For these reasons, Greece cannot fund a recovery by resorting to deficit spending or the printing press. It follows that even in SYRIZA’s best case scenario—where Greece stays in the euro and the government gets the deal it wants—it cannot both reduce unemployment and tax the rich. For Greece there is no such thing as a labour-friendly recovery: the Eurozone is a one-way street to labour emasculation. The implication is that there is no way for SYRIZA to implement its programme, or even rudiments thereof.

These important but neglected facts have ramifications for Greece’s immediate future. If the Greek people vote ‘no’ on Sunday, then the Greek government might be able to extract some minor concessions from its creditors and reach a new bailout agreement within the week—that is, assuming that the ECB does not force a Grexit. It will then have to enforce further austerity in order to revive the economy. This is likely to destroy SYRIZA electorally, by bringing about its pasokification and eventual demise. This is the message of the previous paragraph: no Grexit, no labour-friendly recovery. If, on the other hand, the Greek people vote ‘yes’, then the plot thickens further. Say the government does not declare an election. Then it will have to enforce the same kind of austerity that has decimated the country over the past five years. The Greek Left will be all but eradicated for a generation. Say the government does declare an election. It will then have to give in to the creditors’ threats until such time as the election takes place—or worse, enforce austerity on the event of its reelection! The opposition from the Right will naturally blame austerity on SYRIZA’s ‘capitulation’, on its negotiating ‘ineptitude’, and similar gimmicks. Whatever happens, Tsipras’ room for manoeuvre is completely circumscribed by the euro; and you can’t really conduct an orchestra with a straitjacket.

“Μένουμε Ευρώπη” ή, αλλιώς, ευρωφανατισμός

Protagon, 28/06/2015

Σε πρόσφατο άρθρο του, ο Αριστείδης Χατζής υποστηρίζει ότι η Ελλάδα βρίσκεται στα πρόθυρα ενός εθνικού διχασμού, όπου ‘οι πάντες… δεν αντιμετωπίζουν πλέον τους αντιπάλους ως πεπλανημένους, ανόητους ή αδαείς. Αλλά ως εχθρούς.’ Ανάμεσα σε αυτούς που πάσχουν από αυτή την ιδιότυπη μορφή ιδεολογικής παράνοιας, γράφει, συγκαταλέγονται και μονάδες από τον ‘ευρωπαϊκό, εκσυγχρονιστικό χώρο, τον κατεξοχήν φορέα των ιδεών του Διαφωτισμού, κυρίως της ανοχής.’ Και καταλήγει εκφράζοντας την επιθυμία του να ‘παραμείνει η χώρα [τ]ου στην Ευρωζώνη, στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση αλλά κυρίως… να συνεχίσει να συμμετέχει στην ευρωπαϊκή παράδοση του Διαφωτισμού, του ορθού λόγου, της ελευθερίας, της δημοκρατίας και κυρίως της ανοχής.’

Δυστυχώς το άρθρο του κου Χατζή εκφράζει μια ιδεολογική παθογένεια παρόμοια με αυτή που κατακρίνει.

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First we take Amsterdam, then we take The Hague

by Nicholas Vrousalis, Robin Celikates, Johan Hartle, Enzo Rossi

Open Democracy, 3/4/2015

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline
How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Leonard Cohen, ‘First we take Manhattan’

The university movement in the Netherlands has just won its first victory; a victory for democracy and academic freedom against the commercialization of higher education.

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Greece’s Brest-Litovsk

Open Democracy, 24/03/2015

An encircled army has few viable options: it can sue for peace and suffer humiliating terms. It can fight with all its strength and suffer heavy casualties. Or it can fight the odd skirmish, force ceasefires, and bide its time, all the while trying to split the opponent and prepare the ground for reinforcements. In November 1917, the newly installed Russian government found itself in just such a predicament. Upon entering into negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, it was immediately faced with a dilemma: suing for peace meant betrayal of the anti-war revolutionaries in Western Europe who were fighting the chauvinism of their own ruling classes. Opting for war meant an intolerable amount of casualties and possibly a humiliating defeat. The Russian government initially opted for a third strategy: no war – no peace. One explicit condition for the ceasefire negotiated under this strategy was that the Central Powers not shift their troops from the Russian to the Western front. In the meantime, the government continued its pro-communist agitation within the ranks of its opponents, in the hope that it could split their forces.

Europe’s periphery—the so-called PIIGS—is presently under siege by financial markets. Greece is at the forefront of this fight. Indeed, the election of SYRIZA on the 25th of January seems to have pushed the country out of the furnace and into the fire. Short of leaving the euro, the Greek government has only one fire-fighting strategy left, which consists in breaking the unity of the pro-austerity bloc. This is a Herculean task, for it requires sowing disunity within the Eurozone’s pro-austerity governments. But it remains an ever-receding alternative to the mutually exclusive menaces of capitulation or Grexit. Let me explain.

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What is the New University?

ROARmag, 18/03/2015

The heart of the student movement today beats in Amsterdam. The occupation of the Senate House by staff and students at the University of Amsterdam has rekindled the flame for a free and democratic university. The ensuing fire has spread fast and wide throughout the Netherlands, which now counts at least five geographically distinct campaigns under the banner of the so-called ‘New University’ (apart from Amsterdam: Groningen, Leiden, Maastricht, Nijmegen and Utrecht). The movement has also garnered support from the FNV, the largest Dutch trade union and numerous statements of solidarity from the rest of the world.

Perhaps the best way to understand this movement is as a challenge to rethink the very idea of the university. What follows is one attempt to meet this challenge in light of the movement’s own self-conceptions.

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Amsterdam discussion: ‘Greece & the prospects for a European Spring’

Why we occupy

by Nicholas Vrousalis, Robin Celikates, Johan Hartle, Enzo Rossi

Open Democracy, 2/03/2015

It has been two weeks since the first occupation of the Bungehuis, one of the main buildings of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The more recent occupation of UvA’s Senate House – the Maagdenhuis which was famously occupied back in 1969 – and the breadth of the grassroots movement for a New University exposes the problems of Dutch higher education. Increasing student/staff ratios, chronic underfunding, creeping micromanagement of research and teaching, and growing authoritarianism from university management are all conspiring to turn universities into a bureaucratic version of Walmart. The twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neoliberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university.

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